By Holland Cooke
AUSTIN — The 8:00 am start time means an early reveille for night-before convention revelers, but the Pillsbury law firm’s Leadership Breakfast is always packed, and always sound-bite-rich. Session theme: “Is Radio Ready for a New Deal?”
Again this year, the SRO crowd paid rapt attention to Wells Fargo Securities debt analyst Davis Hebert, whose outlook was rosier last year:
- “Clearly the progress [of the Trump administration agenda] has been disappointing. The economy is still stuck in neutral.” Markets loathe uncertainty, and Hebert quipped that “it’s difficult to predict what the president might Tweet.”
- “AM/FM still the ‘king’ of audio,” but…
- As overall USA ad spending nears $206 billion, he characterized radio’s performance as “tepid…radio has slightly underperformed post-Recession. The pie is growing. Media time overall is increasing while radio is stable.” AM/FM is forecast to take 7% of the pie this year, with “modest declines through 2021.”
- “Political comes back in 2018, core ad sales could depend on economic outlook.”
- “Digital is taking share from everywhere. Google and Facebook vacuum most of that up.”
- Smart speakers? Big topic at Tuesday’s RAIN Summit, and in Hebert’s view: “Embryonic, but could be a catalyst for more in-home listening.”
- New media equity performance is driven by audience growth. So “extending into smartphones and smart speakers could be a catalyst.”
- Events: “Advertisers are looking for ways to reach Millennial audiences, who value experiences.”
- iHeart and, Cumulus: “There’s less sand in the hourglass. Both companies are unlikely to get through 2018 without [financial] restructuring.”
“We’re in an environment now where change is breathtaking.”
David Benjamin, Benjamin Media Investments LLC, a former station group head, was among outspoken Leadership Breakfast panelists. He also offered:
- “Facebook and Google have made the transition to mobile, an area we used to own.” This year “Facebook is going to do three times the revenue of CBS, a hundred year old company.”
- And he got a chuckle from a crowd who often felt snubbed by previous FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s focus on broadband: “We [now] have a [FCC] Chair who acknowledges that radio exists.”
Kim Guthrie, President, Cox Media Group:
- Think radio has challenges? “Try running newspapers! We’re absorbing double-digit losses every year. Of our 3 businesses [radio, TV, print], radio is the rock star.”
- “Radio’s built on local retail. The national business is the part that stinks. I just stopped counting on it.”
- National media buyers “don’t listen. They’re young women, they don’t drive.”
- Regarding the impending CBS/Entercom merger: “Having another big player without a negative balance sheet will be good for all of us.”
- And she weighed-in on an issue that broadcasters are confronting with sometimes jarring candor: “We’ve got bigger fish to fry” than propping up the AM band. A fellow panelist chimed-in as-plainspoken…
Jeff Warshaw, CEO, Connoisseur Media LLC
- He called efforts to lift “the sub cap” (restricting the number of stations in either band an owner can have in each market) “probably the single-most important thing that can happen in our industry.” Like other owners, Warshaw might prefer to own only FM stations in some cities. Noting that “I built an AM station at age 19,” he shrugged “I don’t think we should sacrifice the future of this business to save a band that is in decline to irrelevance.”“
- “We need to discuss all the things we’ve done wrong and need to do better. We’re fighting for survival in the long term.”
- Deregulation wish list? Not a FCC matter, but a business killer for radio: “disclaimers that make it impossible for us to compete with TV for drug advertisers and car dealers (TV displays tiny-font side effects warnings and lease terms “for a split-second”).
Beth Neuhoff, CEO, Neuhoff Communications
- “There’s no room for 5 owners in the market any more.”
- “Digital top line looks terrific, but it’s a lower-margin business.”
- The CBS/Entercom deal is “game-changing.”
Robert Malone, Managing Director, Technology Media & Telecom, Capital One:
- “We still think [radio] is a viable debt investment.”
- The iHeart/Cumulus debt situation: “It’s definitely a cloud hanging over the industry. Ultimately it will be a huge help to the industry to get that behind us.”
“You can reach more people and achieve better results at lower cost than any other medium.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai – an enthused radio booster – is a tough act to follow. But even after affable Pai’s keynote, Entercom CEO David Field brought the crowd to its feet as he accepted NAB’s National Radio Award, with some plain talk:
- “It’s kinda pathetic but there are naysayers in this industry who think that flat is the new up.”
- “We’re a heavyweight medium that punches way below its weight.”
- “We’ve been playing defense for too long.” He vowed that, post-merger, his company would champion radio conspicuously.
Are you productive? Or merely busy?
How’s this for a seductive session title: “Hold My Facebook and Insta While I Retweet This.”
Tips from panelists:
- Buzz Knight, VP Programming, Beasley Media Group: “Kill as many meetings as you can. Who wrote the rule that a meeting is 60 or 30 minutes? How about a 6 minute meeting?”
- Suzanne Montoya, GSM, Connoisseur Media is wary of time wasted “at the watercooler.” She’ll ask “Are you SELLING SOMETHING to that person you’re talking to?”
- Amy Stroud, Senior VP, Forcht Broadcasting: “Be realistic” about your daily To-Do list. Beware Email paralysis.
Can’t be here?
Attend virtually! Many sessions are being streamed and archived. Hit www.RadioShowWeb.com
Among available Thursday sessions:
- Driving Results for Car Dealers
- Recruitment: Attracting and Retaining Top Sales Talent
- Get Your Digital Marketing in Shape or Die!
- Radio Drives Search
If you missed my notes from Tuesday’s RAIN Summit, click here
More tomorrow from Texas.
Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he covers industry conferences for Talkers. Follow his real-time Tweets from the Radio Show @HollandCooke.